Again, I need to quote Jamie verbatim:
Since Kim Cameron now has me hovering over the laws of identity, I figure I better get busy and find some new hairs to split. (Ive never been compared to a starship before, and I'm not sure exactly what it means, but it's the best compliment I've had in weeks.)
And that's how it was meant. I was trying to conjure up the beautiful many-sidedness of Jamie's mind… Not to mention his teleportation beams and forcefields.
Once again, I have a general comment regarding semantics and the terms Kims using to describe the principles (or laws, if you prefer).
As you may have noticed, Kim has used the term universal identity system several times in defining the laws, and Ive seen it crop up in a bunch of other blog postings. As I said in my previous post about architecture principles, terms (and connotation) are crucial. Loaded terms make it harder to understand and communicate how any complex system will evolve. And Id be hard-pressed to come up with a more loaded term than universal. Maybe its just the way Im hearing it. Im certain that my reaction is due to some weariness over revisiting the same arguments so many times over so many years. But for my part, when anyone talks about a universal identity system, my first instinct is to put my money in my shoe.
Your shoe, Jamie?
The fifth, er, principle (the Law of Pluralism), demonstrates that Kim isnt advocating one globally unique identifier, one single uber identity system. In fact, he's advocating just the opposite. (His thoughts on centralization are clear as well.) When Kim uses the term universal identity system, he means universal in the sense of a widely accepted, highly scalable approach, applicable and usable across the diverse and wide-ranging Internet. Hes talking about enabling a truly distributed system that can bind many different applications, use cases, and identity systems into a more meaningful (but logical) whole.
I whole-heartedly agree with the principle Kim has outlined in the fifth law. Its crucial that we get this one right. If we cant agree on the fifth law, well forever be arguing over how to make the others work.
Because it is so crucial, Im concerned that some folks will interpret universal to mean uber, as in one single identity system operating on a single standard, in spite of Kims intention. Thats precisely what X.500, X.509, and other attempts to solve this problem are and were about. And there are some folks who just seem genetically pre-disposed to approach the problem from a top-down, if-we-can-all-just-agree-on-one-single-identifier perspective.
That's right, and this is the very opposite of what we are trying to achieve.
The multiple previous attempts to build global and universal identity systems failed for multiple reasons. But if one thing seems clear, its that top-down, fully centralized systems dont seem to work for identity, at least not on an Internet scale. Weve been there, done that, and found that it didnt work. Hopefully, weve learned these lessons and wont have to re-learn them repeatedly.
To ensure clear agreement on this important principle, then, we need to do one of two things: either define more clearly what we mean by universal in this context, or create an alternative term that doesnt connote the uber system.
You're right, Jamie.
In defining the fifth law, Kim also uses the term metasystem. On one hand, I like metasystem better because it connotes more of what were shooting for. On the other hand, the meta prefix has its own baggage (some of which I helped create). Some people may think the term metasystem implies the stateful synchronization that meta-directories strive for, which isnt the case. Clearly, Kim based the laws on his extensive experience with meta-directories. So maybe we can reclaim the meta prefix, re-define it based on what weve learned. In any case, metasystem is better than universal identity system, at least for me, and for now. In my next post, Ill drill down a little more on why.
I agree with everything you say (except the part about the shoe). For the time being, in my recent post on the developments in the UK, I used the word “unifying”. But sure. We should take back the term “Meta”.
I'm looking forward to the next chapter. And doing version 1.1 of the Laws.